What are philosophical reasons for approving of freedom of speech but not of freedom of deeds? If teasing the others by speech is allowed, why not by deeds? If freedom of deeds is wrong, then why approving of freedom of speech? If both can cause disasters, then why distinguish between them? To me being teased by words seems much more sever than being teased physically. The effects of the latter may recover soon, but one may not recover from the effects of the first. Is it only my opinion that freedom of speech (without any limits) is as wrong as freedom of deeds (without any limits) or have there been philosophical attempts to prove the same?

  • I would question that hearth is causing more pain than if you get punched. Is denying the holocaust or showing that mohammed-movie causing more pain than getting shot?
    – Lukas
    Commented Sep 28, 2012 at 6:32
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    @Lukas, If someone lets me choose among being verbally insulted or being punched I may choose the former, but I'm not sure I will always choose similarly especially in the case of libel and slander and malicious statements, and if libel is made against someone that I truly admire or love, like my parents, my wife, the holy persons to whom I owe my all beliefs and joy of life and etc., the situation may even get harder. That you said being verbally teased is not as painful as being shot has many evidences for not being always true.
    – owari
    Commented Sep 28, 2012 at 19:28
  • For example now, say, in Pakistan there are many who have chosen to be killed but not remain passive against the libel made against their prophet to whom they respect more than they do for any other person including their parents. Also there is an evidence from Quran about the Virgin Mary, when she conceived Jesus, the Christ, she retired with him to a remote place, there she cried in her anguish, wishing if she had already died before this, being forgotten and out of sight, as she was afraid of what she may be slandered about having a child without being married. (Quran:19:23)
    – owari
    Commented Sep 28, 2012 at 19:29
  • Anyway, note that many violent actions are just reactions to some verbal abuse and unjust, and also that many verbal conflicts are just reactions to some physical wrong actions, I mean speaking by itself is a deed so why to distinguish between this and other deeds with titles like freedom of speech (but not freedom of deeds)? If freedom of deeds can cause disaster so can cause the freedom of speech, and if freedom of speech is a human right so why not be the freedom of deeds, and etc? This is my question to be more clear.
    – owari
    Commented Sep 28, 2012 at 19:31
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    Don´t like the direction this is going. If it hurts me when someone says "spaghetti" or makes a bad movie about spaghettis, then should saying "spaghetti" be a crime? I think it should not be a crime. If muslims go nuts about some random bad movie, they have to learn to deal with it, or go nuts.
    – Lukas
    Commented Sep 28, 2012 at 22:15

3 Answers 3


There is no philosophical reasoning to approve one and not the other - and I question whether or not such schizophrenic philosophers even exist. Furthermore, both the freedom of speech and the "freedom of deeds" - even in the most liberal circles - have been generally governed by the harm principle in their seminal states. Ergo, free speech does not mean that saying anything anywhere is permitted, just how the concept of liberty or a free society doesn't mean you can go around killing people. I suggest you read John Stuart Mill's On Liberty to familiarize yourself with the concessions of Mill's staunch liberal position.

Further reading:

  • Opinion in Commonwealth v. Joseph D. Leis, Justice Jacob J. Spiegel
  • Regulating Racist Speech on Campus, Charles R. Lawrence III
  • Corry v. Stanford University, The Superior Court of California
  • Chaplinsky v. New Hampshire, The Supreme Court of the United States

Note that I use the term "liberal" in the context of philosophical liberalism, and not in any political sense.

  • +1 for introducing the concept of Harm Principle! Also offense principle was interesting to me in your cited reference. However, there should be an eligible source for defining what is wrong, offensive and harm, so that should be criminalized.
    – owari
    Commented Sep 28, 2012 at 19:47
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    @owari: Defining "what is wrong" is an entire branch of philosophy - often called ethics ;) I can't provide one single source that's indubitably correct in its assessment of right and wrong (I can't even provide 100 - as there are thousands - and they often contradict). Commented Sep 28, 2012 at 22:55
  • Superb answer @DavidTitarenco; I've posted an answer, Buddhism's take on speech. Could you take a look at it? Danke
    – Hudjefa
    Commented Jan 5, 2023 at 10:38

There Is No Clear Distinction Between Speaking and Doing

Speaking is an action, an action is a deed.

Doing something from one's mouth and not from hands is still an action. Otherwise all the quadrupeds would have died, you see they don't eat with hands and they must eat to live.

Speaking is a subset of deeds. All speaking is an action, not all actions are speaking.

Matter of Freedom

As a principle, how much freedom is given to one's actions must depend on the impact.

A president for example shouldn't be allowed to start a nuclear war on his own. There have to be checks, hindrances and assistances needed from others for such a high impact action.

Saying something on media is usually more impactful than saying something in private, as long as the speaker is an average person. Due to high number of audience many more are likely to join a cause. This is how its more impactful and this is why its must be more restrained.

A thing said by a leader is more impactful than a thing said by any of his followers. A simple hint or complain by a leader can prompt his followers to hurt someone even though the leader never explicitly tell them to hurt.

There are words that hurt more than other words. Obscene remarks about one's mother or daughter or sister do make people more angry, to the extent of momentarily losing one's mind, than say a silly joke on one's clothings. Therefore, the former words must be more restricted than the latter.

To restrict from repeated action punishment must be given. If there are no apparent consequences of one's actions he will continue to do so.


High impact actions must be more restricted than low impact actions.

Words may or may not have more impact than deeds. It depends on who is speaking to whom, what is spoken and in what situation. All of these 4 ws must be taken into account when putting restrictions on deeds and words.


What Buddhism has to say about speech

The Noble Eightfold Path

  1. Right view

  2. Right intention

3. Right speech: no lying, no rude speech, no telling one person what another says about him to cause discord or harm their relationship; abstaining from false speech, abstaining from slanderous speech, abstaining from harsh speech, and abstaining from idle chatter.

  1. Right action

  2. Right livelihood

  3. Right effort

  4. Right mindfulness

  5. Right samadhi

The above from Nobel Eightfold Path

Also, vide Sammavaca

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